Why is this important?
The Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) Seascape is a remarkable region in the Pacific Ocean covering more than 2 million square kilometers within the marine areas of four nations: Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama. It is crucial to the economy, culture, and future of these four nations, and to the health of the entire ocean.
The convergence of major oceanic currents, the presence of underwater mountain ranges, and the upwelling of nutrient-rich waters in this region nurture a magical explosion of life.
Hammerhead sharks, silky sharks, green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, blue whales, whale sharks, and many other vulnerable and highly migratory species call the ETP Seascape home and depend on it to complete their life cycles.
In fact, the ETP Seascape features some of our planet’s most symbolic natural habitats.
The Galápagos Islands (Ecuador), Cocos Island (Costa Rica), Malpelo Island (Colombia), and Coiba Island (Panama) are all listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites because of their unique and important natural, economic, and cultural characteristics. The entire region is one of Conservation International’s four critical Seascapes—marine areas large enough to encompass different levels of government from the local to the multinational, but not too large to be managed effectively. And all four of these natural habitats, as well as the entire region, have been designated Hope Spots by Mission Blue and Blue Parks by the Marine Conservation Institute.
But the ETP Seascape is at a crossroads.
Several threats—including plastic pollution, noise pollution from shipping traffic, habitat destruction, habitat degradation, introduction of invasive species, and climate change—are placing immense pressure on the health of this marine region and pushing many of its species closer to extinction.Two threats in particular are responsible for decimating marine life in the ETP Seascape: industrial fishing and gaps in marine protection along important animal migration routes.
Industrial fishing operations, both domestic and foreign, have been documented using unsustainable fishing practices such as excessive fishing that goes far beyond sustainable levels, catching non-target species—known as “bycatch”—and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
In the Galápagos Islands alone, foreign industrial fishing vessels logged a mind-boggling 73,000 hours of fishing in just one month. Meanwhile, 136 fishing vessels from Ecuador’s own industrial fleet, one of the biggest in Latin America, entered the Galápagos Marine Reserve, where fishing is not permitted. Meanwhile, Panama and Costa Rica are among the world’s top exporters of shark meat. This is troubling given that global shark and ray populations have experienced a severe drop of more than 70 percent in the past 50 years. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Colombia is a wonderful example of progress and commitment to the protection of the ocean—in 2020, Colombia banned shark fishing in its entirety.
While the region boasts important marine protected areas (MPAs)—such as those surrounding the islands of Galápagos, Cocos, Malpelo, and Coiba—the ocean between these key sites is completely unprotected and wide open to industrial and illegal fishing.
And industrial fishing vessels often lure marine life out of protected areas with the use of bait, deliberately exploiting the current patchwork of protected areas.
It’s critical that we act now to build on past progress for protection.
In 2004, the governments of Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, and Colombia signed an agreement and launched an initiative to create a regional marine corridor, an important first step toward the conservation and protection of marine wildlife in the region. All four nations have also already established important MPAs at key sites with clear commitments to protect at least 30 percent of their ocean by the year 2030.
Now we need the governments of Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama to fulfill their promises and work together to establish a unified multinational network of no-take MPAs.
Marine wildlife does not recognize our borders. So even if MPAs exist, marine species become easy prey for industrial fishing vessels as they enter and leave protected areas. This is particularly worrying for migratory species like hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, and leatherback sea turtles, which must travel between different sites to fulfill their biological needs such as finding food and breeding.
Establishing a network of no-take marine protected areas is the only way to safeguard the ETP Seascape.
This network of marine protection would generate long-term benefits for the more than five million people who live within six miles of the region’s coastline. These benefits would span various sectors including tourism, recreation, scientific research—and especially the fishing sector through the “spillover effect.” The network would also help protect coastal ecosystems and help ensure long-term availability of important fish species that underpin coastal communities’ sustenance and livelihoods.
Join the local communities, artisanal fishers, government officials, and dozens of organizations in calling on these nations’ leaders to establish the world’s first multinational network of marine protected areas in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape. Then, help build momentum by sharing the campaign on Facebook and Twitter with #ETPSeascape.
Sign the petition and show your support for the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape at https://only.one/act/etps
Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021